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U-2 spy plane joins Hill Air Force Base museum

Posted at 9:56 PM, Jan 04, 2023

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Hill Air Force base has always had amazing aircraft that are a part of the United States military but a new arrival at the museum is a plane that some have only read about.

“Once you start explaining the history of these artifacts these objects then it really starts to occur to them how important how significant they are.” Aaron Clark, the Museum Director said

One of the country's most secretive spy planes is set to land at the Hill Aerospace Museum, meaning visitors should now be on their best behavior because you never know who is watching.

A Lockheed U-2, nicknamed the "Dragon Lady," made the move from Arizona to its new home in Northern Utah in March of last year.

The man behind the move and all the planning to restore the aircraft is Brandon Hedges, the Museum Restoration Chief.

“Why do you like doing what you do?” I asked him. “It's getting to tell stories without. I'm not a big public speaker. I don't like to sit here and go over facts with people in history but I can tell the stories of the past through the airframes.” He said in response with a smile.

As 2022 wrapped up he was hard at work on finishing work on an F-117 Nighthawk, the Air Force’s first stealth fighter.

While the painting, patching, and 3d printing continue, nearby the U-2 sits ready to be worked on and restored to it’s former glory.

“So we've got a lot of work to do taking like screws out because we drilled the heads of screws to get it disassembled,” he said taking a look at it as it sits.

“The missions they did what the airman did in these airframes. Pretty dang cool stuff” Clark said about the plane as well adding “and they're rare to get for a museum. So when one came available for us I can't tell you how excited the team was to actually go and pick it up.”

The U-2 along with the F-117 and the infamous SR-71c are three of the most impressive aircraft ever built. All were designed by a specialized division of Lockheed Martin called Skunk Works.

First introduced 67 years ago the U-2 also known as the dragon lady is one of the highest-flying aircraft ever built.

While this particular plane was never stationed at Hill AFB it potentially could have traveled here to be repaired.

“The U-2 spy planes. So their number one role is to spy and take pictures. right?” He said adding “So Hill Air Force Base, we fixed the photographic equipment that was in these aircraft. So pretty cool stuff.”

But it's not the only one, the F-117 and SR-71 also could have been repaired by Utahns while in service before being restored to be on display.

“The U-2, the Sr-71 and the F-117 Hill Air Force Base did maintenance work for these aircraft,” Clark said adding “with the F-117 stealth fighter. We have actually sent crews across the world to go repair F-117.”

Operating at extremely high altitudes during the Cold War through present times, the U2 has been successful at providing the U.S. military and CIA with important intelligence information.

Unlike the F-117 and SR-71 however “It flew before the SR-71 that flew before the F-117 did both of those aircraft have since retired and we're still flying the U-2.” Clark said adding “Kind of crazy and it's still performing that reconnaissance mission that we needed.”

Getting it here was no easy task according to Clark and Hedges.

Ahead of the journey, crews removed the plane's enormous 103-foot wings and its tail before it was placed on two semi trucks for the 13-hour trip north. Once at the museum just outside Hill Air Force Base, the plane will be reassembled and eventually placed in a new 80,000 square foot hanger.

“So I got to go down for a day or two and open up the backside kind of crawling and see just from prior experience how this thing could come apart which was fun.” Hedges said adding with a laugh “I had paperwork that says it was the museums but it just felt odd going on to another military base coating open and exhaust and just climbing in.”

While restoring it, Hedges says that it doesn’t always stick with him the importance of what he is working on adding “When I'm in the process of it though it's not right I'm like I got to get the job done. I gotta get it here” but adds “when I see like they did some story on it or the arrival of it and you see people show up at the museum, you're like oh this is a large thing like this is awesome. Getting the first U2 into a Utah museum.”

After some hard work, elbow grease, innovation, and inspiration it will be one of only 10 in the country on display.

“I hope that when they look they think it's all the same and it's not a model, we don't do models here.” He said with a laugh.

The U-2 will eventually be on display along with its Lockheed Martin, Skunk Works counterparts in a brand new 80,000-square-foot hanger which will open soon.